Monday, April 25, 2011

Quote on Protestantism and the problem of biblical theology

What do you make of this quote?

"The Protestant Reformation rejected allegorical interpretation because allegory had allowed the medieval church to go beyond the original meaning in ways they rejected.  The Reformers wanted to peel back developments in the catholic tradition and used sola scriptura as the method.  But what they really wanted to do was peel back developments to about 450CE, and their sola scriptura unintentionally set Protestantism on a trajectory that would eventually undo the glue of the first five centuries and, after the Enlightenment, the books of the Bible began to fall apart from each other.  This is the problem of biblical theology."


Bob MacDonald said...

I am not sure what to make of it. But my reading of the writings is that they are Mashal through and through and are full of images - the vine (psalm 80), the waters of judgment (psalm 69), Job as parable, etc. So anyone who needs to has a way out of the limiting of interpretation to propositions. Such a one can be both inside and outside the images. I am speaking as an Escher portrait for a moment. The Catholics have some wonderful imagery - but they have a hard time 'explaining' it. The protestants want explanation but often lack the rationale for understanding. Why bother with theology if all your theology is by rote and not in the real engagement with the God you are talking about. Theology whether proposition or analogue must arise but it is trouble if it arises without knowledge. At least it is trouble till the horse gives up the reins to the Rider. Another thought that came to me recently - theology should be praise and not an enforced or required confession. The creeds sung each week are easily seen as praise rather than postulate.

Darrell Pursiful said...

I think the writer has a point. The second half of the paragraph certainly seems to be an accurate assessment of how things have developed since the Reformation.

My question: If this is the "problem" of biblical theology, what is the solution?

BC said...

The "but what they really wanted to do" language seems to imply there was an ulterior motive in what the Reformers were doing. Removed from a greater context, it comes across as conspiratorial or insidious.

Rick said...

It sounds similar to a point made by Robert Louis Wilken at the inaugural lecture of Wheaton College's Center for Early Christian Studies. However, he indicates that even some of the methods used before 450CE, such as pre-450CE allegory, were lost as well.

Nathaniel said...

Well, first off, I think distinctions need to be made between typology, "grammarology" and allegory.

Second, its not fair to group the motives of "the Reformers" into a singular unit. Each reformer had specific motives. However, motives aside, there are two problems each of the reformers has to solve:

1. The abuses they intended to correct were propped up by doctrines proved by allegory.

2. They had to propose a metaphysically simple (ie non-composite) ultimate norm for theology to counteract the claims of papal authority.

In the first case, abandoning allegorical usage was the quickest remedy.

In the second case, Roman theologians were proposing the metaphysically simple papacy as a sure epistemological footing in the face of "complex" allegorical interpretation. The reformers saw that eliminating "complex allegory" would allow them to uphold the bible as a metaphysically simple norm in place of the pope. The unstated first principal of this line of reasoning is the confidence in man's ability to apprehend "original meaning"; a confidence which originates in a thomistic understanding of the imago dei.

Thus, I would agree with the general tenor of the quote that the rejection of allegory had significant unintended consequences, I disagree strongly with its unstated presupposition that Protestantism and Roman Catholicism form a dialectic. In reality, the two movements form a dispute about the fine points of late medieval Western theology. Protestants had no intention of peeling back developments to 450, otherwise they would have rejected Quicumque Vult, the filioque, or the natural immortality of the soul, just to name three uniquely medieval doctrines universally espoused within both groups (perhaps some anabaptists could be excluded, but I think the wide variety of beliefs held by them too numerous to analyze in such a short medium). Both groups were simply norming their theology to different emphases in scholastic metaphysics.

FrGregACCA said...

The statement concerning "the problem of biblical theology" is, IMHO, absolutely correct.

Its solution is found, of course, in that the Bible itself points beyond itself to the Church and its Apostolic leadership as the locus of authority. This does not mean, BTW, merely the papacy, as it came to be understood in the West.

Further, the relationship between these matters and allegorical interpretation is by no means clear to me.

Ironically, for their part, the Reformers and those who followed in their footsteps rejected much that goes back far beyond 450 CE and is rooted in the New Testament itself, most importantly the Church as a community realized in its sacramental life and, thereby, the normal vehicle of salvation for all Christians.